On Internet and Democracy

Rachael Gichuki
The internet has turned out to be quite a dynamic medium of mass communication, thereby having an incredible capacity to enhance the expression of democracy in the world. It enables human rights defenders and individuals advocating for the rights of people living in and beyond their immediate boarders. Further, online newspapers such as The Nation Media, TheGuardian among others play a key role in informing the world on rights violations occurring in a particular part of the world. This then enhances the notion of global democracy, where individuals and news agencies alike can freely talk of and to some extent, address rights violations happening in any part of the world.

The internet changes the nature of democratic debates because it diversifies the interactions among individuals. Whereas, the television and the radio media can only support a one-way communication, where the audience is only a consumer of information. The internet creates a platform where communication ranges from one to many or from many to many with feedback. The internet has three main features that are important in enhancing democracy. The first feature is speed. In the present day society, the internet enables us to have easy access to information about society at the snap of the finger. Access to information fuels the rapid change in the society since we are able to adjust according to the new information acquired. In the creation of laws therefore, people are able to adjust to new legal orders due to the quick acquisition of knowledge on the same.

The second aspect of the internet that boosts democracy is the wealth of content in the internet media. Initially, as stated above, only a few individuals could understand law and the law making process of parliament or regional bodies such as the African Union. However, currently anybody can access government bills and notices and be able to share their concern about it. Meaning citizens are able to understand and uphold emerging legal requirements.

The third notion is the reactivity and interactivity the internet media presents. People are able to react to certain moves by the government as well as interact and mobilize themselves around collective actions strategies thus upholding democracy.

Limitations on internet
One of the factors undermining the internet as a democratic tool is the digital divide. In many countries, only a limited number of people with proximity to the city can access the internet while the rest cannot.
The other dynamic presented by the digital divide is its effect in maintaining inequalities in the world economy. A cross-section of the population is not able to access a basic telephone or mobile phone. In Kenya, statistics show that only 17.8 million out of a population of 43.18 million back in 2012 were able to access the internet. In India, 70% of the population does not have access to the internet. It is only the elite member of the society, who enjoys the benefit of internet access thus further increasing the gap between the poor and the rich.

The government of India also has reasonable control over the internet, and largely uses intimidation and censorship to undermine democracy in the country and the internet. The Australian government passed the Broadcasting Service Amendment Act, which compels Australian Internet Service Providers to remove content that is “objectionable” from the internet and block access to comparable websites. Websites have been blocked in several of the Middle East countries for example Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirate and the Bahrain in order to limit access to sites that review the government actions. China does not permit individuals or groups to post content that is considered as being “anti-government propaganda.”

The Inactive Minority
Further, there are groups of people who have access to the internet but consider it too intrusive. They therefore do not participate in any conversation going on in the internet space. In addition to the above, cyber crimes hinder people from being active in the internet as well. In various states, there is a lack of definition of what entails cyber crimes largely due to the ever-changing nature of the crime. Thus, personal decision and the question of internet safety undermine the power of the internet to enhance democracy.

Case Study: Parazit by Kambiz Hosseini
Kambiz Hosseini is an Iranian Television host who started the television series called Parazit with the help of Voice of America. The television show reached over 30 million viewers and attracted funs and critiques alike. The show was able to reach people living in Iran and beyond despite the fact that the authoritarian government bans satellite television in Iran. The show criticized the Iranian government and was able to reach millions of Iranians and beyond because of the presence of the internet. Whereas, it has not achieved a lot in terms of pressure on the government to change certain policies, it has created a platform for the Iranian people to express views that cannot otherwise be shared on mainstream media.

Case Study: Internet Elections in South Korea
The 2002 Presidential elections in South Korea revealed the power of the internet over matters political. President Rho Moohyun victory was largely because of effectively utilizing the internet as a campaign tool. Initially, he was neither popular nor famous among South Korean voter population. His party did not believe in his presidency or his ability to win the presidency. Further, he was in conflict with three major media houses, which covered 70% the Korean mainstream media. The internet therefore played the role of mainstream media. He circulated his political philosophy and his take on certain issues via the internet. Further, over seven thousand potential voters sent him emails on their opinions on policy and other matters and he raised over one billion dollars from over a span of eighty thousand donors. Effectively, the internet provided a platform where the candidate was more in touch with the people as compared to mainstream media.
The donors were mobilized over the internet by Rho Sa Mo, an ally to Rho Moohyun. Oh My News is the internet news hub of South Korea, which has been celebrated by The Guardian as well as other international news platforms, also endorsed his campaign, and both greatly contributed to his success.

It is therefore safe to conclude that the internet promotes not only democracy, but also self-expression and self-determination. However, the internet is susceptible to abuse by governments, which undermine principles of democracy, and individuals who have ulterior motives. The call therefore is for everyone to utilize the internet as a tool that expands the expression of democracy in our respective countries. Criticize, applaud, affirm and question the leadership of your country on social media. Talk about good and bad laws, exemplary citizens and their way of life et cetera. Use the internet with decorum and promote democracy.

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